Alternatives to Landlord Licencing Schemes

Alternatives to Landlord Licencing Schemes

11:45 AM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago 42

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The alternatives to Landlord Licensing Schemes require joined up thinking, changes to data sharing protocols within local authorities and revised high level directives and strategies which must begin at Government level. 

Perhaps the first question to ask is what is Landlord Licensing all about? Is it really about raising standards or is it more to do with raising funds?Alternatives to Landlord Licencing Schemes


If society as a whole desires that people should not be subjected to sub standard housing conditions then society as a whole must pay to enforce this (howsoever that might be done) whether the money is raised at a local level or centrally.

It is both unacceptable and wholly undemocratic that landlords should be singled out by Government, Councils and Local Authorities to pay stealth taxes badged as licensing fees on the pretence that the money will be used to fund enforcement related initiatives.

Costs associated with licensing schemes imposed on landlords are funded through increased rents. Neither landlords nor tenants want this, particularly as there is clear evidence (demonstrated in this article) that landlord licensing schemes have proven not to be an effective solution to problems in the Private Rented Sector.

Recycling of Court awarded penalties

The high costs associated with prosecuting criminal landlords is borne by Local Authorities, however, fines and penalties go to the treasury. If these funds were to be redirected to the prosecuting authorities this would assist funding of additional prosecutions and create incentives to bring more criminal landlords to task.

Improvements to PRS housing standards for benefits claimants

Our suggestion is that Local Authorities should check to ensure they only pay housing benefits to fit and proper landlords who provide decent accommodation. That would be what any responsible parent would do if paying for their offspring’s accommodation. In this case, the state is effectively in loco parentis. It is proposed that payment of Housing Benefits to landlords are suspended following unsatisfactory checks until such time as properties are brought up to acceptable standards. The proposed quid pro quo to landlords is direct payment of rent before the benefits cap is applied. The logic for direct payment of rent to landlords being the first payment is that shelter is one of the most basic requirements for human existence and should, therefore, be the first welfare benefit to be paid, not the last as it is now. Clearly this impacts significantly on the Universal credit proposals which have been widely contested by the PRS and Housing Charities alike.

The above would require inspections prior to new housing benefits being granted. This would also enable phasing in as opposed to having to asses every property within a defined timescale.

The enforcement teams currently in place within the public sector to tackle problems in the PRS are:-

  • Environmental Heath Officers for property conditions,
  • Planning Enforcement – for unauthorised conversions which seriously brings down standards across the board.
  • Tenancy Relations Officers for harassment and illegal eviction
  • Benefit Fraud to tackle widespread scamming
  • Trading Standards for sharp practices amongst agents
  • Anti social behaviour teams

Outside of the council are:-

  • EDF revenue to tackle cannabis factories and theft of electricity
  • British Gas revenue for theft of supply.
  • Police Community support officers and the Police.

Put them all together and you have quite an army. This is what a visiting team would need to do.

  • Visit the property and check for breaches of HHSRS.
  • Check gas safe certificates
  • Phone the planning team if it’s a conversion to ascertain that all has been done with permission. (3 minutes)
  • Land reg check to ensure the person you are dealing with is actually the owner (£3 and 2 minutes)
  • Experian check for the same reasons as above (£6.99 10 seconds)
  • Council tax check for any outstanding bills and history of use (5 minutes)
  • Check past Housing Benefit claimants which cross references info you have about landlord (5 minutes)
  • Call to EDF and British Gas to make sure all utilities are above board. (5 minutes & free)
  • Run companies search to check solvency. (Free or just £2 for a director check)
  • If landlord is not resident in UK check NRA certificate. (free)
  • Run landlord or company name through Google (You’d be amazed what comes up sometimes & free)
  • Call Environmental Health Officer to see if they have any dealings in the past with the property or the landlord/agent. (2 minutes & free)

The problem is that it is only in sporadic circumstances that any of these teams and organisations talk to each other on an unofficial basis. Often they have different computer databases, so a person might be receiving a grant from one council team while another team is prosecuting them for fraud or failing to pay council tax. Councils do work in this way in other circumstances. MAPPA panels made up of homelessness workers, social workers, Police, probation officers, etc have been common place for years tackling those who are a danger to the community.

Tax Breaks for Landlords

Well thought out tax breaks could encourage private rented sector landlords to increase availability of quality housing which is let to recipients of benefits, thus increasing competition and driving out the racketeers who rely on intense demand  in this segment of the private rented sector.

Fair and reasonable HMO licensing in Birmingham

Reasonable progress has been made in Birmingham to bring about a major change in the structure of their HMO licence fees. In a nutshell good landlords, who have become accredited through an education based scheme, are given a big discount on their licence fee. Good landlords who are members of recognised landlords associations are given a further discount. This has reduced the licence fee from £1,150 to £850 but is still questionable. The cost of these discounts is being recovered by charging the bad landlords. When the Local Authority has to trace and chase a landlord and force him to licence he will be charged the full amount without discounts, regardless of accreditation or landlords association membership and a one year licence is granted. At the end of the year the landlord has to pay the full fee again and is then granted a normal five year licence. This proposal was made by National Landlords Association and Birmingham City Council accepted the model on the basis that bad landlords who increase their enforcement costs  should pay, not as happens in other areas. The same structure applies to the licence renewal.

Whilst we support the basic principals used in Birmingham we must point out that we do not support Additional Licencing and/or Selective Licencing. The requirement for compulsory licencing of any type of HMO is questionable based on our first set of suggestions.

Failed or failing Landlord Licensing Schemes

Landlord Licensing in Scotland has been in place for 7 years, Housing Charity Shelter said “We conclude that landlord registration is not yet fulfilling the expectations placed upon it; indeed, that it may not be able to do so.” in this report.

The Salford Landlord Licensing scheme was a failure admitted by the Local Authority but there are plans to extend it. Isn’t doing the same thing and expecting different results supposed to be a sign of madness? See this report.

The Oxford scheme has become a bit of a joke, check out this thread based on a freedom of information request to Oxford County Council.

Sources of information and how you can make a difference

Sources of information are linked.

This article has been compiled from a long discussion here on Property118.

If your local authority intends to introduce a new form of licensing these suggestions will give you options to propose alternative solutions. You may obtain a copy of this document as a PDF to present to your local MP and/or to submit in response to public consultations by completing the form below.

Why not write to your local MP (Member of Parliament) about this and ask him/her to raise the matter in the Houses of Parliament and with his/her Local Authorities?

If you do not have the contact details of your local MP, please see >>>

Remember, increased licensing results in increased rents. Together we can make a difference.

Landlords and tenants combined = over 5 million votes!

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Mary Latham

18:11 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

I think that Neil's idea is excellent.

Ben this is not about paying landlords to do what they should be doing - I agree that is not on. It is about giving good landlords with good properties incentives to let to LHA tenants which is performing a social service, especially since most of us do not need to let to that tenant groups because there is so much demand from working people. This would boost the available stock and reduce the B&B bills that all tax payers pay for anyway and it would help families to put down routes. Yep Neil your idea is spot on.

Ben I am now expecting to see a version of the Social Letting Agencies (which in my opinion are a waste of time and money) as No Win No Fee services are offered by local authorities. God help us all. Ben if you propose this LEAVE THE COUNTRY FAST

Follow me on Twitter@landlordtweets

My book, where I warn about the storm clouds that are gathering for landlords is here >>>

Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:21 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Mary I didnt disagree with Neil's suggestions and what is your beef with social lettings agencies? Despite the odd disagreement over minor points I always considered you and I to be on the same page and I am a big fan of the idea as the best example of partnership working betwixt councils and the PRS.

Is it social lettings agencies as a precept that you have a problem? or is it just the way some of the existing ones run?

I should tell you now I have no intention of leaving the country, although Frazzy is making noises to retire to Barbados, the land of her birth, dragging 'Whitey' with her

Mary Latham

18:25 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Ben Reeve-Lewis" at "12/08/2013 - 18:21":

Tell your lovely lady that I will buy the tickets for you!!

Like all things "local authority" Social Lettings Agencies could have been a good idea but the LA do not buy in the skills of an experienced Lettings Manager they are recycling redundant staff to run them. NO NO NO NO NO!!! These people have no idea what Letting and Management are all about and why should landlords pay while they learn?

Follow me on Twitter@landlordtweets

My book, where I warn about the storm clouds that are gathering for landlords is here >>>

Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:32 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Oh now Mary you are doing what I didn’t expect you to do….generalising. Shame on you. I will charge you business class for the repatriation flight..

A year or so ago I went to a seminar at the Chartered Institute of Housing about them. The presentations were all done by people who had started them and feeding back their experiences. Every single one said the same thing, “If you treat it like a normal council service it doesn’t work”. Many had employed private sector people, ex agents to do the job and found this works the best.

When I proposed this to my council the head honcho immediately said “Great idea but I think it will have to operate as a stand-alone plug-in to the council, not a normal council service.

So I take it you aren’t against social lettings agencies per se, just the way many of them currently operate.

I totally agree you need specialist staff

Mary Latham

19:11 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Ben my question is this "Why would a landlord pay a local authority to help them to house people on their waiting lists?" I am not being negative but this is the question that landlords keep asking.

In my opinion if the agency is set up correctly and the landlord can be really hands off there is a market - accidental landlords and tired landlords. For other landlords there has to be an incentive - what is it?

How many local authorities have in fact employed trained and experienced staff?

I have booked your ticket and its only one way leaving tomorrow - no time to go back into work just think about those beautiful beaches Whitey.

Follow me on Twitter@landlordtweets

My book, where I warn about the storm clouds that are gathering for landlords is here >>>

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

19:22 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Ben Reeve-Lewis" at "12/08/2013 - 18:32":

I have a question too please Ben.

Do you envisage Social Letting Agencies offering services to tenants too, Civil Prosecutions on a 'no win no fee' basis perhaps?

Mary Latham

19:30 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Mark Alexander" at "12/08/2013 - 19:22":

Not once he is in Barbados Mark

Follow me on Twitter@landlordtweets

My book, where I warn about the storm clouds that are gathering for landlords is here >>>

Ben Reeve-Lewis

19:31 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Mary Latham" at "12/08/2013 - 19:11":

Haha I’ll send you a postcard

I see where you are coming from Mary. My visions of a social lettings agency is very different from many of my contempories who you may have encountered.

I got a chance last year to promote to my council what I thought needed to happen and I have to say there was very little council in it.

I was originally lined up to be seconded out of my post to kick start the initiative but as usual, being a junior officer I was stabbed in the back by middle managers, my radical ideas stolen and re-hashed in a watered down version that I would be embarrassed to stand behind and have little hope of success for.
They just don’t get it. You have to think in a PRS way to make this stuff happen, not in a council way. It makes me want to flush my head down the toilet in frustration.

Recently I have come across ABC Lettings, the social lettings agency for Ashford Council, I think they are on the right track.

The biggest obstacle is so many councils seeing landlords as the enemy. I have never held that view, preferring to see them as partners in the same problem.

A couple of years ago I was at a meeting where we talked about having a lanldord’s day. We discussed where to hold it and I suggested our civic suite. One committee member actually said “Yes that would be the best space but we have tried that before and the council aren’t happy having private landlords on council property”……..WHAT DID THEY THINK THEY WERE GOING TO DO????????SWING FROM THE CHANDELIERS????? haha

Ben Reeve-Lewis

19:47 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Mark Alexander" at "12/08/2013 - 19:22":

Yes very much so. this is the problem that most council bods focus on. How can you help landlords and tenants at the same time? For me there isnt a dividing line. I long ago gave up simplistic notions of evil, money grabbing landlords and doe-eyed victim tenants. Its a more colourful and complex world.

Most harassment and threats of illegal evictions I see result from landlords trying to do it properly, screwing it up and then cutting corners. If I can help a lanldord to evict a tenant properly that cuts down on allegation of harassment and illegal eviction that are usually perpetrated by decent people who are all at sea with the complexities of housing law. I have long seen my job as lubricating the process.

If a landlrod is an arse, ignores the law, ignores advice or my offers for help then they are fair game. I will bust a gut to piss in their swimming pool but mostly, despite what Shelter say, even in South East london these guys are in the minority

Mary Latham

20:26 PM, 12th August 2013, About 11 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Ben Reeve-Lewis" at "12/08/2013 - 19:31":

Or perhaps look at the state of the sanitary ware and remark, as I did recently, "They would close me down if my toilets were in this condition"

Follow me on Twitter@landlordtweets

My book, where I warn about the storm clouds that are gathering for landlords is here >>>

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